Exacerbating inequity in schooling

Briar Lipson
Insights Newsletter
1 May, 2020

Even before the Covid-19 crisis, there were gaping inequities in the educational outcomes of students in New Zealand.

For example, in its latest (2018) round of PISA testing, the OECD found that New Zealand had the worst socioeconomic gradient (i.e. the strongest relationship between socioeconomic background and educational performance) of all English-speaking countries.

The partial closure of schools due to the Covid-19 lockdown will only exacerbate this inequity.

Of course, many teachers have been proactive in finding ways to stay connected with their students. The Ministry of Education has supported this, circulating devices, modems and hard-copy teaching resources. However, how students are using these remains to be seen.

Just as in normal times, the children most in need of support tend to be the hardest to reach. Online learning only magnifies this challenge.

For some children, temporary homeschooling using resources selected and sequenced by their parents has been an epiphany. Through programmes like Oak National Academy, Khan Academy and Times Table Rock Stars, children have seen that schooling can be about so much more than researching, collaborating, and meeting your unique, child-centered needs. They are learning that school can also be about learning from subject-experts, about drilling and killing (in the best possible way), about quizzing, reciting poems and studying art.

For these children, lockdown has been inspiring, provoking and testing, just as every school day should be.

For too many Kiwi children, not even normal school days aspire to these things. These days, with the unbalanced push for schooling to be relevant, child-centered, egalitarian and kind, teachers are trained and cajoled into overlooking essential aspects of what children need.

For example, New Zealand’s national curriculum undermines the importance of learning a canon of knowledge in favour of complete flexibility. It also finds no need to mention teacher-led instruction as part of effective pedagogy. The national qualification, NCEA, offers endless second chances and pretends all subjects are equal.

Each of these aspects of official policy, influential though they are, are based on only half the story. In this way they meet the definition of an ideology.

Even virtues turn toxic when left to an unchecked extreme. Tough love is important too.

Official policy in New Zealand extols only the flexible, the child-centered and the kind. Until this changes to reflect the complete story, it will only reinforce inequity.

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